The Texas Supreme Court’s ruling that mosquitos are wild animals may appear of little significance to self storage operators. However, the court’s decision in Union Pacific Railroad, Corp. v. Nami, 2016 Tex. LEXIS 571,could prove significant for any landowner in a mosquito infested area as fears of the West Nile and Zika viruses are spreading across the country. A jury awarded Nami $752,000 when he contracted the West Nile virus from mosquito bites he suffered while working on land owned by Union Pacific. The property was located in Sweeny, Texas, which even had signs on the approach to town calling it “Mosquito Capital of the World”.
The court held that a property owner has no liability for harm from indigenous wild animals that the property owner has not attracted to its property. As a result, the court dismissed Nami’s lawsuit whom asserted that the property owner should have protected him from the mosquito bites that infected him with West Nile virus. The court concluded:
“Thus, as a rule, under the doctrine of, a ferae naturae property owner owes an invitee no duty of care to protect him from wild animals indigenous to the area unless he reduces the animals to his possession, attracts the animals to the property, or knows of an unreasonable risk and neither mitigates the risk nor warns the invitee. Ordinarily, the property owner is no better able to protect an invitee than the invitee is to protect himself.”
The court’s decision reverses the $752,000 judgement against Union Pacific and provides landowners with some protection from claims for injuries from wild animal attacks, even those by mosquitos that result injury. The landowner must be able to demonstrate he took no actions that increased the risk of harm or failed to warn about a known risk. Self storage operators with facilities in mosquito areas may want post notices of the mosquito hazard.